My homily today is about God and what God is doing in our world. I will talk about the God of Peace and the God of Surprises. I will begin with the God of peace. Our church has a Christmas manger scene today and the manger scene brings the Christmas story to life and helps everyone to feel the peacefulness of the Silent Night, the Holy Night. I will tell the Christmas story in just a moment; but first the story behind the story.
For 12 centuries there was no such thing as a manger scene. It was invented by Saint Francis of Assisi in the year 1223. Saint Francis was traveling from Rome to his hometown when he stopped at a small town that looked just like Bethlehem. He said to his traveling companions, “I have an idea. We could create the Christmas story right here in this small town.” Saint Francis proceeded to get people to act out the story. He found a man to play Joseph and a mother to play Mary. She brought her baby with her and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and placed him in a manger.
He asked children to serve as angels and local farmers to serve as shepherds. Francis used ordinary people for his play to remind everyone that Jesus came to an ordinary small town to save ordinary people. Saint Francis set up a manger scene because the Bible says that Jesus was placed in a manger after he was born. He was not placed on a soft cushion in a palace. He was placed in a manger in an ordinary stable in the midst of ordinary people because he came into this world to be the savior of ordinary people. Saint Francis wanted everyone to insert themselves into the Christmas story. Now I would like to take a close look at the people in the Christmas story.
The first person in the story is Joseph, the carpenter. He is the person who finds the stable. He helps Mary to enter the stable and he prepares the place for the birth of Jesus.
The second person is Mary. For nine months she carried Jesus in her womb with love beyond all telling. In Bethlehem she showed her love for Jesus by wrapping him in swaddling clothes and holding him close to her heart. Her heart was filled with love for her child. Mary held the child Jesus close to her heart and protected him from the cold wind on that cold winter’s night.
Next we have the angels and they are messengers from God. They proclaim Good News…Tidings of great joy. They say, “Today your savior is born in Bethlehem and he is bringing peace to all the world. Gloria in excelsis Deo and peace to His people on earth.” They proclaim a Gospel of Peace, and they proclaim the news that this child will be a Peacemaker. The angels bring their news to the shepherds. The shepherds are very caring people. They watch over their flocks day and night and they protect them from the wolves and the wild dogs.
Next, we have three kings from the East. They come bearing gifts - gold, frankincense and myrrh. Their gifts remind us that gift-giving was part of the Christmas story in Bethlehem.
The point of the story is that all these people came to see Jesus. The rich and the poor and the middle class…and even the angels. Everyone wanted to see Jesus. And they all got along with each other because Jesus is the peacemaker…He brings peace to the world.
There were divisions in society in those days, but the divisions were replaced by peace whenever people kept their eyes fixed on Jesus. And that is an important message for us today. If you are looking for peace keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. He is the Prince of Peace that we heard about in our first reading today. Jesus is God and He is the God of peace.
My second topic is the God of Surprises. The history of our salvation is filled with reversal stories. God catches people by surprise by reversing what they expect. Both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian scriptures contain stories in which the outcome is the reverse of what people expect. In each case God moves in and creates a big surprise.
In the Book of Genesis, we hear that Sarah is more than 70 years old, but thanks to God’s intervention she has a child and she names him Isaac. In the Book of Deuteronomy, we hear that the Hebrews are the smallest of all nations; but God intervenes and they became His Chosen People.
In the Book of Judges, we hear that Manoah’s wife is barren, but God intervenes, and she has a child and his name is Samson. In the first Book of Samuel we hear that Hannah is childless; but then she conceives and gives birth to a child and his name is Samuel. In Luke’s Gospel we hear that Elizabeth is quite elderly. But then she becomes pregnant and delivers a child with no difficulty - and he is John the Baptist. Her cousin Mary is a virgin and she conceives by the power of the Holy Spirit and her child is Jesus.
In each case, God has intervened and created a reversal of what you might expect. And the same was true for His beloved Son. In His very first public speech Jesus told the people that His Father sent into the world to reverse the normal pattern of things. He said that He came to bring Good News to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and to let the oppressed go free. Jesus did not come into the world to defend the status quo. He came to turn things upside down. He came onto the scene to cause reversals.
He did not praise the nobility like most people did. Instead, He gave praise to the humble. He did not hate his enemies. Instead, He said, “Love your enemies.” He said, “Do not seek rewards. Instead, serve your neighbors without seeking any reward.” The Father of Jesus was the God of reversals and Jesus came to call for a reversal of how things should be done.
Today we ask the God of surprises to help us to participate in His reversals. He can help us move from pride to humility. And He can help us move from greed to generosity. Our Savior can help us move from hostile behaviors to doing kind deeds. He can help us move from being persons who are jealous to being persons who give support and affirmation. He can help us move from seeking revenge to granting forgiveness. We pray for the grace we need to successfully complete these reversals.
I will close with a short summary. Our God is the God of Peace. His Son is the Prince of Peace and He is calling us to be peacemakers in our world today.
Our God is the God of Surprises and His Son is calling us to shock our world by proclaiming that love is stronger than hate and faith is stronger than doubt.